TATA Group Mainline carrier, Air India which placed a historic order in June this year is looking to reposition itself as a Premium Airline, which is people’s favourite. In June, the airline placed an order of 470 aircraft which includes 70 widebody jets. It ordered 40 Airbus A350, 20 Boeing 787 and 10 Boeing 777X jets.
Full Service + Low Cost Carrier
During privatization, there were 4 airlines under the TATA Group umbrella. They were Air India, Air India Express, AirAsia India and Vistara. In November, AirAsia India brand has been liquidated. TATA Group is aiming to go ahead with 2 main airlines – Air India and Air India Express. Air India will be the mainline Full Service Carrier while Air India Express will serve as a Low Cost Carrier.
To operate the mix of both this airlines, Air India was in search of a leader. Earlier, it selected Ilker Ayci of Turkish Airlines but was rejected because he could not get the approval from Indian Home Ministry. Then, the airline chose Campbell Wilson, who was CEO of Scoot. Scoot is the Low cost subsidiary of Singapore International Airlines. As Campbell had worked with both SIA and Scoot, he was the perfect contender to go ahead with for Air India.
Repositioning Air India as a Premium Airline
In an interview to Forbes, Air India CEO Campbell Wilson said that after decades of being ruled by the Indian government, the airline is now set for a dramatic transformation.
In terms of market size and size of geography, Air India has been consistently underperforming. As a result of this, foreign airlines took benefit and started carrying passengers via hub airports. Carriers from Middle East like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways were transporting Indian passengers via their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. On the other hand, European Airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Lufthansa were transporting passengers using their hubs at Heathrow, Paris CDG and Frankfurt.
But now, the time has been changed. The airline is all set to soar in the skies. It has both things it need – capital and ambition.
Air India partnered with UK-based designing agency FutureBrand to design its new logo and livery. In August month, the airline officially unveiled its new livery and logo. The Vista logo is inspired from the jharokha windows. Rebranding was termed as ‘The Dawn of a New Era’. The livery includes a color blend of Red, Golden and Purple color with Air India logo on the aircraft underbelly. Purple color signifies the Vistara brand.
Wilson said that at Air India, everything is changing. Whether it is the product or the office or the people involved or the culture. Everything is changing. When asked about what was the initial response to the new brand, he said that everyone was positive and excited after the brand reveal. The reaction was the same the airline hoped.
Air India has taken delivery of first Airbus A350 in new livery. The aircraft registered as VT-JRA landed in India last week. New brand has been rolled out at airports as well. In a phased manner, it will be rolled out at all the airports.
Cabin Product Renovation
Last year, the airline announced its plans regarding the refurbishment of its widebody fleet. The airline has already kept $400 million aside for fleet refurbishment. The current cabin specially on the widebody fleet os old, neither renewed nor maintained for years. TATA Group is now investing in the latest technology on the ground. The airline aims to have a product with direct competition to global airlines. It has an opportunity to connect Indians to many parts of the world non-stop with a product, reputation and quality, which is unmatched.
The Global Supply Chain is also reorienting towards India and its economic growth. This is the time to pitch for additional market segments apart from those the airline already operated. Two more segments which the airline wants to explore are Corporate and Premium Leisure Traveller segment.
The airline has acquired 6 Airbus A350-900 jets which were previously destined for Russian Carrier Aeroflot. Because of constraints in supply chain issues, the airline has decided to go ahead with the Aeroflot cabin. However, the fabric color on the seats has been changed and matched to Air India colors.
Passengers flying between Mumbai and United States of America onboard Air India are witnessing a new premium product as the airline is deploying former Delta and Etihad jets with premium cabin onboard. Primarily, it used the Boeing 777 jet to America. It operates flights to Washington using the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. All these widebody jets will be refurbished starting from second half of 2024. The widebody fleet will have new seats, new IFEs and new Interiors.
Reinventing Route Network
Since privatization, Air India has done a lot of changes in its international network. The airline at first resume services to 3 European destinations where it suspended during pandemic. It returned to Milan, Vienna and Copenhagen. Lately, the airline has increased frequencies on these routes as well. In terms of London operations, Air India did a rationalisation. Delhi and Mumbai to London are operated from Heathrow while Ahmedabad, Goa, Kochi and Ahmedabad to London flights land at Gatwick Airport.
Unfortunately, the airline had to suspend services between Hyderabad and London Heathrow. Ahmedabad to Nairobi routes has been converted to Delhi to Nairobi service. It launched a brand new route between Mumbai and Melbourne on December 15. On the same day, it kickstarted operations between Delhi and Phuket.
The airline is rationalising its network between both Full Service and Low Cost Carriers. Routes originating from Tier-I cities are being served by Air India while remaining routes will see services from LCC Arm Air India Express.
During privatization, the Government chose to retain both engineering and ground handling arm of Air India. The engineering department – AI Engineering Services Limited was not privatized and is still under the government. Air India is still taking services from AIESL as it is binded in a contract with government. Once this contract is over, the airline will build its own MRO services from scratch.
Air India currently employs the largest percentage of female staff globally. Its female staff percentage is 18, which is four times more than the global average. In terms of management, the airline brought the best from TATA Group and Singapore International Airlines onboard. Air India has subscribed to IATA’s 25 by 25 initiative under which it targets to have 25% share of female staff by 2025.
The airline has recently introduced new cabin crew and pilot uniform. The cabin crew uniform includes ready to wear sarees while double breasted shirts have been introduced for pilots. There are two cabin crew uniforms – Aubergine colored and Red colored. Aubergine for senior cabin crew and Red for junior ones.
Air India is about to open the largest Aviation Academy in Asia. It has partnered with Airbus and L3Harris for Pilot training facilities in India. In the Air India-Airbus Joint Venture, an investment of Rs 3,500 crore is expected. Both Air India and Airbus will ave 50-50 percent stake. On the other hand, L3Harris will train pilots for Boeing 737, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 fleet.
When asked what is the biggest challenge in making Air India as world-famous premium airline, Wilson replied that most important thing to change is the culture. We have aspirations of being world-class and we have a credible path to go there.
After privatization, the airline established a performance oriented interaction. A huge number of workforce has operated under a very different atmosphere when the airline was owned by government. Changing the culture of such employees will take a little bit tie. Furthermore, the merged airline will be a mixture of 4 different airlines. For context, Air India is still suffering from the 2007 Indian Airlines merger. Because mixing cultures of 2 airlines is a very difficult task. Air India and Vistara are going to merge, and since inception, both airlines had a very different work culture. This is a huge task for Air India.
The airport infrastructure in India is currently on boom. Next year, 2 major airports – Noida International Airport and Navi Mumbai International Airport will be inaugurated. Air India Express on December 30 started flights to a new airport – Ayodhya. Most of the airports are undergoing transformation either in terms of runway upgrade or terminal renovation.
Wilson said that India is the 3rd largest domestic aviation market in the world. Still the number of passengers travelling are 1/5th of the number handled by China. Indian Economy is growing at a rate of 8 percent. Even if 0.1% of population starts using planes, that would be a huge boost. Wilson added that currently, India is the best aviation place to work at.
Moving to a New Year
A rejuvenated Air India looks forward to a new chapter in 2024 and beyond as we close out 2023. With a dream of positioning Air India as a premium airline, it is moving to next year.
“We’ve had an incredibly exciting year. And these last 100 days have really changed a lot,” Wilson remarked. “Over the past 18 months, a significant portion of our work has been done below the surface and hidden from view by the outside world. We have been implementing the new uniforms and brand over the past couple of weeks. In this year, we have new IT, a new website, and the A350 deployed.”
“We will begin the procedure of retrofitting all of our wide-body aircraft during the next six months, and it should be finished by the end of 2025 or soon after. Thus, it truly is just the beginning. People’s perceptions of the new Air India are still developing. The transition from here in just two years is nearly unheard of in the aviation industry. Every six days, a new aircraft is delivered. In aviation, we are most likely living in a historic time.”
Source : Forbes